4kg and 8kg, 2021
A red brick with the word ‘ADVANCE’ pressed into its form placed beside a ball of yarn presents the viewer with a visual dilemma. Each are titled by their weight and placed in relation to one another in a left-to-right orientation just as timelines or Western forms of text are read. The viewer can see that the yarn is listed as being heavier than the brick, but struggles to reconcile their visual expectations that the brick should be heavier. The work places the recent past of institutionalized mental health care (the red brick buildings of the Lakeshore campus of Humber College – previously the Mimico Branch Asylum) in dialogue with the contemporary research which intends to imbue calming effects in the future of mental health spaces. The contrast of materiality describes the shift in the intention of mental health care – from one that is centralized, cold, and as clinical as an operating room to one that is warmer, softer, and symbolic of the necessary unraveling that modern ideals for therapeutic spaces seek out within the pre-existing and new structures. The brick itself communicates the missed narrative around the advancement for mental health care in relation to the ball of yarn, which communicates the literal weight of mental health. This weight contradicts the embodiment of the ball of yarn in our mind, hiding the burden of these issues, however carrying them with delicacy much the same way as many of our experiences with mental health are.
The work of Alex Furtado is a direct play on the themes of the tangible and the tactile. His piece 4kg and 8kg is designed to create dissonance in the viewer. The intended reaction upon viewing the work is the presumption that the brick is heavier than the ball of yarn, but - as the title makes clear - the opposite is true. In direct subversion of the viewer’s initial suspicions, the artist has wrapped the yarn around an unseen shot put ball, thus creating an 8kg ball.
The two objects of 4kg and 8kg are engaged in a conversation around the evolution of mental health care. The decision to present a ball of yarn alongside a red brick is significant. Complementing Carmina Miana’s work, Furtado’s work references the historical philosophy of “moral treatment.” The red brick stands in for the recognizable brick buildings that still define the landscape of the former Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital, emphasizing the important role the physical environment played in early institutional practices. The ball of yarn presents the other side of moral treatment: the unpaid labour of patients that created and maintained the aesthetic beauty of the therapeutic property of the Hospital. In the nineteenth century it was believed that patients’ mental health would benefit from assigned labour. In its literal viewing, the ball of yarn speaks to the role of labour in the experiences of the patients, particularly the domestic assignments assigned to female patients. At a more abstract level, the yarn that obscures the weighted centre also speaks to the influence of the early treatment philosophy that can still be felt in contemporary mental health practices today.